Darrell Hazell has made up his mind about a starting quarterback.
He's just not ready to make his decision public yet.
Six weeks after naming Rob Henry the starter, he replaced the ineffective fifth-year senior with true freshman Danny Etling in Saturday's loss to Northern Illinois. He met with the quarterbacks Tuesday afternoon and a formal announcement was expected to be made Wednesday, though Hazell did a drop a hint about which way he might be leaning.
"I thought he (Etling) moved around in the pocket, he created some big off plays for us, he played really well," Hazell said on Tuesday's Big Ten conference call. "He's got to take care of the ball, too, but I thought we were really able to get the ball to receivers outside the hashes for the first time Saturday."
Quarterback choices are always big deals in college football. At a school dubbed the Cradle of Quarterbacks, no decision carries more weight.
Hazell originally picked Henry, a team captain, because he was more experienced, a leader and he outplayed the younger competition during spring football and throughout summer. But with Purdue's stagnant offense stuck again Saturday, Hazell didn't have much choice.
Henry has a completion percentage of 53.6 percent, has three times as many interceptions (six) as touchdowns (two) and has the second-lowest passer efficiency rating among Big Ten starters at 100.7. Only Minnesota's Phillip Nelson (97.7) has a lower number.
Even Henry acknowledged after Saturday's embarrassing 55-24 loss that something needs to be fixed.
"We've got to find ways to get better, and that's got to be the mindset for this whole team," he said.
Etling produced better numbers after the Boilermakers dug themselves into a deep hole, going 19 of 39 with 241 yards and two touchdowns in his college debut. Like Henry, he also threw two interceptions for a passer efficiency rating of 107.3.
The freshman expected more from himself.
"I've got to play better," Etling said. "When I went in, we were down 20 and we lost by more than 20. I just didn't play my best, and I've got to play a lot better. I can't play like a freshman."
By making the move Saturday, Etling lost his chance to redshirt this season and with the Boilermakers (1-4, 0-1 Big Ten) needing five wins in their last seven games to become bowl eligible for the third straight season.
So far, things have been tough.
Purdue has scored only 10 touchdowns and its per-game scoring average (17.0) ranks 112th out of 123 Football Bowl Subdivision schools, and Hazell expects his team to play far better when they host Nebraska after this weekend's bye.
The schedule isn't getting any easier, either.
After Nebraska, the Boilermakers wrap up their toughest stretch of the season by facing Michigan State's strong defense, get a second bye week and then host No. 4 Ohio State before finishing the season with home games against Iowa and Illinois and trips to Penn State and Indiana.
So it's possible Etling, or redshirt freshman Austin Appleby, could be auditioning to be the Boilermakers quarterback of the future.
Hazell also a new headache to contend with during this bye week.
The Lafayette Journal and Courier reported that two Boilermakers receivers, starter B.J. Knauf and backup Jordan Woods, a redshirt freshman, were arrested for theft. They allegedly stole two tie bars, valued at $20 each, from a Kohl's department store at a local mall. The newspaper reported that both were booked into Tippecanoe County Jail. Both posted bond and were released Monday night.
Knauf has nine catches for 95 yards and has emerged as one of the Boilermakers' top playmakers.
"That's very disappointing," Hazell said. "We talk to our guys about always doing the right things, and they made a bad decision. We're still gathering information."
Hazell said he would wait until they have more information before determining any punishments.
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